As many look forward to life after lockdown, local entities and event organizers continue to question some of the decisions made during the pandemic, especially how the restaurant tax proceeds will be distributed.
On July 1, 2020, the City of Harrodsburg began collecting the restaurant tax and turning the revenue over to the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Tourist Commission. Formerly, the two governmental entities had split the money 50-50, with the tourist commission spending their half on marketing the community.
Now, with the vaccination program against COVID-19 underway and the national economy reopening, the tourist commission is trying to jump start its marketing program while fielding funding requests from local agencies and events.
Last week, Mike Steele, chairman of the board of directors at Anderson-Dean Community Park, asked the tourist commission for a commitment for funding the park.
According to the interlocal agreement that created the park, the City of Harrodsburg and the Mercer County Fiscal Court are supposed to share the responsibility for funding Anderson-Dean. Since the institution of the restaurant tax, the city government has used their share of that revenue to fund the park as well as other events, such as Oktoberfest and the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show, and agencies such as the Harrodsburg First Main Street Program.
Steele asked the tourist commission for a commitment to provide funding for the park. However, some board members said it wasn’t necessarily their responsibility, especially since the city’s commitment to funding the park predates the restaurant tax.
Tourist Commissioner Tiffany Yeast said it is the city’s responsibility. Yeast said Anderson-Dean is “a huge tourism draw,” but said the city needs to figure out how they can afford to pay their contribution.
Board member Leigh Lopez said it was unfair to the Mercer County Fiscal Court, who were supporting the park without using tourism funds.
Tourist Commission Board Chairman Mike Inman said their efforts should be focused on promoting the park and other area attractions, not paying for regular maintenance.
“We’re mowing the grass, but that’s not what we ought to be doing,” Inman said. He said the city had taken the easy route, but it was in violation to the statute.
He said he didn’t mind signing a letter of intent, but he did not want to sign a contract with the park.
Board member Tim Kazimer asked why giveaway bags the tourist commission made to advertise local businesses had not been handed out at the park as agreed. The commissioners also questioned a new billboard at the park advertising a business not located in Mercer County.
Steele said the sign was a mistake on the board’s part. He said the sign will be relocated. “I’m not happy with it either,” he said.
As for the giveaway bags, Steele said there had been a miscommunication. He said the park director was on vacation when they arrived, but staff were now handing out the bags to visitors.
Like the tourist commission, the park is also trying to jump start operations after the pandemic.
“We’re trying to be as self-supporting as possible,” said Steele, who said the park is working to reopen the pool.
But the weather has not been cooperating, he said.
“We’re fighting rainouts,” Steele said. He said the park has not had a full tournament since the season started. He noted two signs advertising local tourism have been installed. Steele said the park is in infancy stages after their recent reorganization. He said they would like to begin a monthly concert series.
“We want to be more than a sports park, we want to be a community park,” Steele said.
“This is a board that wants to help,” Kazimer said. But he said he was uncomfortable with making a multiyear commitment. Kazimer said he believed there was a statutory limit on the length of any agreement they could enter.
Steele and Inman both said they would like to meet with all the parties involved, but the tourist commission did not make a commitment either way.
Another issue facing the commission is how to accommodate tenants at the Diamond Point Welcome Center, which is not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. In particular, individuals with mobility challenges have no way currently to reach the second floor.
When Harrodsburg First renovated the historic property in 2008, it served as the offices for Harrodsburg First, the tourist commission, the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Industrial Development Authority and the Mercer Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, Harrodsburg First relocated their office from Main Street back to Diamond Point. The Chamber of Commerce is also looking to move back, but are asking the tourist commission to install an elevator to accommodate handicapped visitors and volunteers. The tourist commission had previously agreed to install a chairlift, but in the lease agreement, the chamber asked them to make a good faith effort to install an elevator within the next five years.
“Are we allowing someone else to dictate what we’re doing?” asked Kazimer. He said he’d hate for the chamber to come back after five years upset that an elevator hadn’t been installed yet. “That’s an issue I’d like to avoid,” Kazimer said.
Yeast said Diamond Point is a welcome center. She said some people with disabilities would be better served by an elevator. Installing one would make the building a “place that is welcoming towards all.”
“When you start down this road, you open up a can of worms,” said board member Bob Gigliotti, citing his experience working with historic buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Gigliotti said they needed to talk to an architect. He guessed installing an elevator would cost up to $100,000.
Gigliotti also questioned the renovations done to Diamond Point back in 2008. “They spent a lot of money but they didn’t do anything as far as ADA compliance,” he said.
Inman, a realtor, said not having an elevator limits their options with Diamond Point. While the new part of the building is ADA compliant, the second story is not.
“You can’t sell a public building without an elevator,” Inman said. “If we do this right, we’d enhance the value of this building.”
Kazimer said he was in favor of removing the language from the lease concerning the elevator because it is not legally binding.
They agreed that they needed to communicate with the chamber they were reaching out to a consultant to look at the ADA compliance issues. The board approved the lease without the “good faith effort” to install an elevator and other language changes.